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Possible Medieval synagogue discovered near Sea of Galilee


Archaeologists have unearthed what could be the ancient remains of a synagogue in a village near Israel’s Sea of Galilee.

Possible medieval synagogue discovered near Sea of Galilee
The recently found medieval structure (north at right) and a synagogue, which are located in virtually the same spot; 
the medieval structure reused some of the architectural elements from the fifth-century synagogue 
[Credit: Paschal Partouche, Skyview]
It was built during the 12th and 13th centuries, and incorporates parts of a fifth-century Roman synagogue known to contain stunning mosaics.

The placement of benches along the east, north, and west walls suggests that the ancient structure is a synagogue – but researchers say such a find is extremely rare in this setting, given the lack of a Jewish presence in the area at the time.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Crusaders and Mamluks (a Muslim people) fought for control of the area around Huqoq, where the excavations are now taking place, Live Science reports.

The researchers have so far been unable to find evidence of a Jewish presence in the medieval records, apart from one of just a few textual references from the early 14th century, in which a traveller named Ishtori Haparchi reported seeing a ‘synagogue with a very old floor.’

Coupled with the benches found in the building, which are arranged in a style commonly seen in synagogues, Jodi Magness, director of the Huqoq excavation project, says the researchers ‘speculate that perhaps our building is that synagogue.’

Possible medieval synagogue discovered near Sea of Galilee
Located at the site of Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee, the recently uncovered medieval structure was created 
during the 12th to 13th centuries [Credit: Jim Haberman]
While researchers aren’t quite sure what the medieval building was really used for, they say there is clear evidence that it was a public building, likely of religious importance.

‘A monumental public building was erected on the same spot as the late Roman synagogue, reusing some of the earlier structure’s architectural elements, but expanding it in size,’ Magness said during a presentation of the research in Toronto at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies this month, Live Science reports.

‘Small patches of mosaics with geometric and floral designs were preserved on top of the floor.’

According to Magness, the medieval building reuses the north and east walls of the Roman structure, along with ancient columns and pedestals.

These were placed on top of low walls, known as stylobates.

The fifth-century Roman structure atop which it’s built was previously discovered by the team, who revealed its brilliant mosaics depicting the stories of Noah’s Ark and the parting of the Red Sea.

Researchers say these scenes are extremely rare in such a setting, and only a handful of others have ever been found.

Possible medieval synagogue discovered near Sea of Galilee
The mosaics decorate the floor of a fifth century synagogue, revealing images of the Pharaoh’s soldiers being 
swallowed by massive fish, overturned chariots, and animals of many kinds. Researchers say these scenes 
are extremely rare in such a setting [Credit: Baylor/Jum Haberman]
The mosaics decorate the floor of the ancient synagogue, with images of the Pharaoh's soldiers being swallowed by massive fish, overturned chariots, and animals of many kinds.

Four schools are involved in the excavations at Huqoq, including Baylor University, the University of North Carolina, Brigham Young University, and the University of Toronto.

The researchers say this synagogue dates back to a time when the Roman Empire ruled the area, and the mosaics have since been removed from the site for conservation.

These ancient relics depict an arc and pairs of animals, including elephants, leopards, donkeys, snakes, bears, lions, ostriches, camels, sheep, and goats.

Along with this, the mosaics show images of Pharaoh's soldiers being swallowed by large fish, with overturned chariots, horses, and drivers surrounding them.

'These scenes are very rare in ancient synagogues,' said Jodi Magness, director of the excavations and professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's College of Arts and Sciences.

Possible medieval synagogue discovered near Sea of Galilee
The mosaics have since been removed from the site for conservation. They depict an arc and pairs of animals,
 including elephants, leopards, donkeys, snakes, bears, lions, ostriches, camels, sheep, and goats 
[Credit: Baylor/Jum Haberman]
'The only other examples that have been found are at Gerasa/Jerash in Jordan and Mopsuestia/Misis in Turkey, and at Khirbet Wadi Hamam in Israel and Dura Europos in Syria.'

Researchers first found mosaics at the synagogue in 2012 and have since continued excavating the site, uncovering many more images.

In the time that's passed, they have found mosaics depicting Samson and his foxes, and Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders, both from the Bible, along with a scene containing a Hebrew inscription surrounded by human figures, animals, and mythological creatures, including putti, or cupids.

The site has also led researchers to discover the first non-Biblical mosaic ever found in an ancient synagogue, showing the meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest.

Author: Cheyenne Macdonald | Source: Daily Mail [January 25, 2017]
TANN

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